Tiger Mother’s been clawing her way through the talk shows and radio circuit this week. I’m talking about Amy Chua, the Yale law professor whose book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother hasn’t won her many fans in the U.S. this week. I haven’t been able to get a copy of the book at my local Borders yet but the buzz is that she shares her experience, namely that Asian kids aren’t necessarily smarter, it’s just that their parents practice tough love and therefore the kids are smarter in the long run.
Chua chirped in the WSJ over the weekend that she didn’t allow her two daughters to go on playdates, they weren’t allowed to get anything less than a Grade “A” in school; she never gave them compliments in public…and on and on it goes.
When you look back at the postcards of your life (or however you categorize your memories – mine are actually a jumble of weeds, daisies, fresh-cut lilies, with the odd box of chocolate thrown in, every gal needs chocolate, yummy), and think back on your parents, how much praise do you remember? How much carrot? How much stick?
I got 98% on a Grade 10 history test and when I showed my dad he said, “what happened to the other 2%?” I’ll tell you what happened. I didn’t see the last question on the back of the final page. I knew the answer. It was Kaiser Wilhelm II. Twenty years later I still remember the friggin’ answer.
My mom tied me up once. With a dupatta. If you know anyone who is South Asian then you’ve seen a dupatta. It’s a long scarf or veil made of chiffon or silk that women toss elegantly over their shoulders. There’s one to match every outfit. Well, my industrious, lovely mom used her dupatta to tie me up one fine spring day. We lived in an apartment building in Toronto and she used a long dupatta to tie my hands and feet together and then plopped me on our bunk-beds. Good God did I cry. I thrashed and screamed. And she shut the door on me. I was, maybe, 5 years old.
My 7-year-old sister played in the living room. My mom cooked all afternoon. I fell asleep. When my dad came home I woke up and started screaming. I like to think I was my dad’s favourite little girl. I was a brat. I screamed harder for dramatic purposes. He untied me. I think he was annoyed with my mom. I smirked.
And now you’re thinking, “Who are these crazy brown people? This is why immigration agents (and child services) exist.” But seriously …. There’s another side to this story.
You see I had just come home from hospital, like, a day ago. I’d had a tumour removed from my ear and was supposed to be resting. Apparently my wound was still healing and there was something icky flowing out of (yucky, blech, can’t even type it, much less envision it) my ear.
To this day the flashcards of my memory don’t remember that part. Wellll, I remember staying in the hospital and the ear surgery but I don’t remember that I wasn’t supposed to be jumping around. Memory is funny huh?
My mom gets queasy at the sight of blood. Poor thing. And I was like one of those monkeys jumping on the bed that falls off and bumps its head. Repeatedly. Like an idiot. And then falls off the couch. And then off the T.V. And then the counter. So she did what she had to. She restrained me. In all honesty, I was a lunatic child, uncontrollable (slamming doors on my sister's fingers, breaking things, random rages), and should have been taken down with tranquilizer darts. If I was the mother of Amber, I would have done that. (Thirty-five years later, now that I'm standing where my parents stood, I compare baby Amber to baby K, my 3-year-old. Clearly baby Amber was psycho. I haven't given enough examples... but trust me.)
What would Amy Chua have done? Probably made me do homework until I fell asleep with boredom instead of tying me to the bed.
As adults what do we remember from childhood? For me, at least, it’s true that I remember equal parts sugar and spice. I remember that my mom didn’t give praise a lot. I remember trying to impress her. And not getting many compliments. I remember busting my chops in school to get good grades. I remember not being allowed to go to the mall. “You are not a loiterer. You come from a good family,” my parents said. I didn’t even go to see a film with friends until I was 15. I was allowed to study with friends but rarely at their place. But I was still chillin’.
I was an immigrant kid and therefore had to work harder than white kids to fit in, to prove myself. My parents were right about that. So were my parents superior? I feel they did a pretty darn good job. I’m not an award-winning scientist or a politician or a Yale law professor but I’m a balanced kind individual. I’m not an angry monster. Aaaand that’s my baseline.
Overall, it was a loving maison filled with an awful lot of laughter and the best darn home-made naan and cheesecake in Southern Ontario (we were brown folk who blended in with our surroundings. Multiculturalism people!!). I know my parents loved me, they just never said it. (They didn't need to because we were swimming in it.) But the topography of my head isn’t all mental coz of the lack of those three hackneyed words. I. Love. You.
Thing is for all those people getting torqued about Chua’s uber-strict parenting tactics, it’s prolly coz they feel guilty that they fed their kids Milupa/Pablum for 18 years, made them wear a helmet and elbow guards whenever they left the house, and now their kids have graduated from college and still have milk teeth, think Kraft Dinner and Gatorade is nutritious, don’t know where the post office is, don’t know how to drive straight, are still afraid of the dark, know what they want to be when they grow up and don’t know who they want to vote for. (Hint: It’s Obama in 2012.)
Every parent is a first-time parent, once. And messes up, at least once. Doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing, many times.
I vote for the middle road. Be tough. Challenge your child. Don’t do everything for them.
Lord knows I don’t want my baby boy to feel the sharpness of disappointment or hurt feelings anytime soon but I’ll do my best to prepare him – by not doing everything for him, by not making life too comfy and cosy – so when the inevitable bump in the road comes along he’ll cycle right over it without flinching, because he’ll have been taking lessons since childhood. I hope he’ll choose to wear a helmet. That would be the smart thing to do. I like to think my parents – and Tiger Mother – would approve.